Monday, January 04, 2010

Oh, That Magic Feeling.

I was recently startled when I heard the original "I'm Looking Through You" in the opening credits of Ghost Town*. I can't think of modern examples of original Beatles tunes being used in movies since Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and in Can't Buy Me Love and those are from 1986 and 1987!**

It immediately told me one thing: Michael Jackson was having cash flow problems.

So, what I understood was: the bulk of the Beatles catalogue was up for sale in the late 80s. The Beatles didn't own what was for sale because of early and uncharitable deals with their recording company. At the time, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson had a friendly (and recording) relationship going (See "Say Say Say" and "The Girl Is Mine"). When the rights to the music went up for sale, Paul McCartney couldn't compete with the kind of money Jackson was (then) rolling in, in the wake of Thriller and Pepsi. Jackson buying the rights to dozens and dozens of songs that McCartney co-wrote, severing the ex-Beatles' access to the royalties and ability to make decisions about how his music is used, (predicably) drove a wedge between the friends.

Then (again, from what I understand), Jackson jacked up the price to the rights to use the music so much, it was prohibitively expensive to do so, and Beatles music disappeared from movies and commercials. It would be nice to think that no one bought the rights to Beatles music out of an honour code over how hosed McCartney was over being bilked out of the rights, but it was more likely prohibitively expensive.

This was fine by me, since I don't like the idea of the Beatles' music being used to sell something. This is a major double standard on my part. Modern English's "I Melt With You" is great for schilling any number of products. Go nuts, Modern English. Bob Seger can sell as many Chevs as he wants. Franz Ferdinand? Good luck to you.

But not the Beatles. No. To me, it's like the Dalai Lama singing "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing". They're too sacred. Too good to be sullied by mundane, ordinary, crass world of commercialism and consumption.

(I know the Beatles were not immune to crass commercialism - I do. I realize a good chunk of Beatles money was tied up in mop top wigs and lunch boxes, but I'm reeling from modern commercial developments, ok? Give me a moment to vent.)

It bothers me that it's not just Beatles' music advertizers are using, but it's the spirit of the Beatles. The Beatles are not just "The Beatles," a gifted band that broke up almost 40 years ago(!), but there's a complex social construction behind them; a unique brand, if you'll allow me (and I know Brian Epstein would), bound up with the spirit of the 60s, the lives of the bandmates, and advancing musical experimentation.

The advertizers get all this added icon bonus when they use Beatles music.

So, when Blackberry tells us "all you need is love," they don't mean it. They mean there's nothing you can do that can't be done if you have already purchased a Blackberry. They tacitly mean you can be as creative and trend-setting as the Beatles. You can grab a part of that idealised esprit de temps of the 60s. You can try hard and design and crunk and rock etc. etc. etc. to your heart's content - just like the Beatles! (Well, the rocking part, anyway - but please picture Ringo crunking nonetheless.)

At the same time, though, I'm thrilled, as always, when I hear a Beatles song. I'm torn that it's being used to sell me something as opposed to just the music for the music's sake.

*An excellent choice.
** No, I'm not forgetting about I Am Sam, a movie I did/will not see for a few reasons, one of which is the solid, wall-to-wall Beatles covers. I am of the opinion that Beatles covers are shadows of the original which ain't broke. (John Lennon did, however, say Anne Murray's cover of "You Won't See Me" was his favourite cover of one of his songs - high praise, although I miss the ooh-la-la-las.)

PS: After I wrote this, I found this post, saying everything I was trying to say in a much more concise, non-crazy, and creative way. Blast.

1 comment:

Isaac said...

It's a very rare occasion to find a musican who does justice to any Beatles tune, but I do commend the musicians from the I Am Sam soundtrack. I firmly believe they did a wonderful job.

I would recommend taking a peek at BBC2's anniversery of Sgt. Pepper, it has a bevy of musicians covering tunes from that album, all with the same equipment they used.

Side note: the word verification for this comment was bleattes, which can be rearranged to say Beattles.